Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - Nashville Sound
You might be wondering how someone whose last album garnered almost universal critical acclaim (including full marks on this very site) could possibly follow that up. Well you get the old band back together and do what you do best, write fantastic songs and rock out. So it is with The Nashville Sound, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's first album together in six years. Having teased a harder edged sound than his most recent couple of records, it turns out Isbell and gang have really just produced more of the same. When it's this good though, and you've so much to say, that really is a fine thing.
Reading that pre-release talk you might have thought the Alabaman was pulling our leg on the first listen to opening track 'Last Of My Kind', a contemplative, charming song delivered with minimal fuss, much like the plaintive 'Tupelo', the sparky 'Chaos and Clothes' or the beautiful 'If We Were Vampires', a song about the inevitability of death and the longevity of love; it's truly wonderful.
Tracks like 'Cumberland Gap' are a bit of a wake up call then, the 400 Unit attacking it with a pace and vigor rarely seen on Isbell's solo work, add the seven minute Led Zeppelin-esque rock of 'Anxiety' and you start to hear that harder edge. Not to mention the blistering commentary of 'White Man's World', a plain speaking rumination on discrimination and protest ("There's no such thing as someone else's war").
Among all this it's the mix of Isbell's wonderful way with lyrics and the unfussy but oh so effective input of the 400 Unit. They leave each other space, the punchy use of fiddle (Isbell's wife Amanda Shires), soaring electric guitar, picked acoustic, all driven on by the rhythm section.
It's difficult to think of another artist that so consistently delivers surprising, engaging, and beautiful work that so works with an audience that's universal. Jason Isbell's an artist we should cherish, they don't come around too often.